Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals in sync with Africa’s pri­or­i­ties

Newly adopted Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals could trans­form the con­ti­nent

Africa Renewal - - Front Page - BY KINGS­LEY IGHO­BOR

On 26 Septem­ber, a day after world lead­ers adopted the new de­vel­op­ment agenda known as the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, prom­i­nent per­son­al­i­ties in world pol­i­tics, so­cial ac­tivism, busi­ness and en­ter­tain­ment gath­ered in New York’s Cen­tral Park for an an­nual event or­ga­nized by the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion, Global Cit­i­zens.

Among the dis­tin­guished per­son­al­i­ties were US Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph Bi­den, First Lady Michelle Obama and UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon. Other guests in­cluded No­bel Peace Prize Lau­re­ate Malala Yousafzai, Bri­tish bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Richard Bran­son and Grammy-Award win­ning singer Bey­oncé Knowles.

Over 60,000 peo­ple wit­nessed the event whose aim was to raise aware­ness on the is­sues of gen­der equal­ity, the en­vi­ron­ment, poverty, peace and jus­tice. Top lead­ers who could not make it to the event, in­clud­ing US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron, ad­dressed the crowd via video links.

Given that the UN had just agreed on the SDGs’ adop­tion, the fes­ti­val be­came as much a vic­tory lap as it was a ral­ly­ing cry for in­di­vid­u­als, or­ga­ni­za­tions and coun­tries to re­dou­ble their ef­forts to make the world a bet­ter place.

“Take your pas­sion and com­pas­sion — and let’s make the global goals a global re­al­ity,” said Mr. Ban, in an im­pas­sioned

speech at the event. The head of the UN was re­fer­ring to the 17 SDGs and 169 tar­gets de­signed to guide the world’s de­vel­op­ment agenda over the next 15 years. Th­ese goals, he said, are “a prom­ise from your lead­ers. Hold them to it. De­mand that they de­liver.”

Ms. Obama, Ms. Yousafzai and Amina Mo­hammed, for­mer UN spe­cial ad­viser on Post-2015 De­vel­op­ment Plan­ning, un­der­scored the mes­sage of Mr. Ban, with the US first lady putting em­pha­sis on the need for ed­u­ca­tion for girls. True to form, Bey­oncé spiced up the event, viewed on satel­lite tele­vi­sion and the In­ter­net by mil­lions world­wide, with a per­for­mance that was both en­ter­tain­ing and in­struc­tive on the SDGs.

The pomp and the sub­stance

Some 193 mem­ber states, most rep­re­sented by their heads of state, rat­i­fied the SDGs on 25 Septem­ber at the start of a three-day UN sum­mit on sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in New York. The 39-storey UN head­quar­ters build­ing was bathed in 17 dif­fer­ent colours, each colour rep­re­sent­ing a goal, turn­ing the iconic build­ing into a daz­zling spec­ta­cle.

Speak­ing at the sum­mit, the world lead­ers pledged to work hard to achieve the goals and their tar­gets. Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel of Ger­many put it force­fully: “We want to change our world, and we can.”

The ad­dress by Pope Fran­cis, head of the Catholic Church, to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly was par­tic­u­larly poignant. Speak­ing to heads of state and other dig­ni­taries, he warned: “A self­ish and bound­less thirst for power and ma­te­rial pros­per­ity leads both to the mis­use of avail­able nat­u­ral re­sources and to the ex­clu­sion of the weak and the dis­ad­van­taged.”

But be­yond the pomp lay the sub­stance: that the SDGs aim to end poverty, hunger and in­equal­ity, tackle cli­mate change, and build re­silient in­fra­struc­tures — all to be achieved be­tween now and 2030. In par­tic­u­lar, ef­forts will be de­ployed to re­duce ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity to be­low 70 per 100,000 live births, end HIV/AIDS, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, malaria and other trop­i­cal dis­eases; en­sure qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and gen­der equal­ity; achieve univer­sal ac­cess to safe drink­ing wa­ter and en­ergy; ad­dress cli­mate change; and achieve at least a 7% global eco­nomic growth, among other ma­jor goals.

MDGs’ un­even ben­e­fits

Meet­ing the 169 tar­gets would trans­form the world, some de­vel­op­ment ex­perts say. It would lead to a world with­out wars, where every­one lives a good life, where peo­ple go to bed with stom­achs filled with nu­tri­tious food, where the gulf be­tween de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is nar­rowed, where women and men get equal op­por­tu­ni­ties, where mod­ern in­fra­struc­ture is ac­ces­si­ble to ru­ral dwellers and where cli­mate change no longer threat­ens hu­man ex­is­tence. A utopian dream?

Yet could this dream be­come re­al­ity? Why not, pro­po­nents of the SDGs re­spond. After all, the Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals ( MDGs), re­garded as largely suc­cess­ful, in­spired less con­fi­dence in their ul­ti­mate achieve­ment than the SDGs have re­ceived. Mr. Ban de­scribed the MDGs as the “most suc­cess­ful anti-poverty move­ment in his­tory.” And Ms. Mo­hammed, in an in­ter­view with Africa Re­newal, de­fined the 17 goals as “a re­sponse to the crises we have in the world to­day” (see in­ter­view on pages 6-7).

The logic is if the MDGs were good for the world, the SDGs will be even bet­ter. For ex­am­ple, be­cause of the MDGs, the num­ber of peo­ple world­wide liv­ing in ex­treme poverty ( less than $1.25 a day) fell from 47% in 1990 to 14% in 2015, while deaths of chil­dren world­wide fell to 6.6 mil­lion from 12.6 mil­lion dur­ing the same pe­riod, notes the World Bank.

But pos­i­tive re­views of the MDGs may not re­flect cur­rent so­cioe­co­nomic sit­u­a­tions for all de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly in Africa. An MDGs as­sess­ment re­port on Africa re­leased in Septem­ber by the UN Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Africa ( ECA), the African De­vel­op­ment Bank (AfDB), the UN De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme ( UNDP) and the African Union (AU) in­di­cates mixed re­sults. While there has been progress in ar­eas such as women’s po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity, and sec­ondary school en­rol­ment, Africa could not meet all the tar­gets, in­clud­ing that on poverty, blamed on poor im­ple­men­ta­tion and a drip-feed of funds.

The re­duc­tion by more than half of the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in ex­treme poverty, touted by MDGs pro­po­nents, was not univer­sal, some crit­ics say. Im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth in Brazil, China and

Viet­nam in­flu­enced that data. But the growth of th­ese economies is cur­rently slow­ing down, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund, mak­ing it doubt­ful that their con­tri­bu­tion to global poverty re­duc­tion in the next 15 years will be at the level wit­nessed in the past 15.

Deal­ing with re­al­i­ties

In ad­di­tion, Africa’s econ­omy, which has been grow­ing at ap­prox­i­mately 5% over the last decade, will slow to around 4.2% in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the World Bank. Even if growth ticks up to around 5%, and China’s econ­omy grows faster, be­tween 6% and 7% of the global pop­u­la­tion will still be liv­ing in ex­treme poverty, says Jim Yong Kim, the pres­i­dent of the World Bank. Cur­rently, of the over a bil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in ex­treme poverty, 415 mil­lion are in Africa.

Worse, with fall­ing oil and com­mod­ity prices, oil ex­port coun­tries such as Nige­ria, Africa’s big­gest econ­omy, and An­gola, among oth­ers, will most cer­tainly face new eco­nomic head­winds that could com­pli­cate the poverty fight, says Kaushik Basu, the World Bank’s chief econ­o­mist. This means that achiev­ing the SDGs tar­gets in Africa will re­quire ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­forts.

But statis­tics from Africa do not tell the whole story, coun­sels Car­los Lopes, the ECA’s ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary, in an in­ter­view with Africa Re­newal. “Some­times com­par­isons are not ap­pro­pri­ate, method­olog­i­cally speak­ing. You can’t com­pare a marathoner with a speed run­ner by say­ing that both have the same fin­ish line,” says Mr. Lopes. Coun­tries with bet­ter so­cioe­co­nomic po­si­tions will achieve tar­gets faster than the oth­ers, he says. The real suc­cess of the MDGs was that they “helped fo­cus the ef­forts of [African] gov­ern­ments and de­vel­op­ment part­ners on press­ing is­sues in hu­man de­vel­op­ment,” ac­cord­ing to the as­sess­ment re­port is­sued by the AfDB, AU, ECA and UNDP.

The SDGs in­clude a heavy dose of pro-poor, pro-women, pro-equal­ity, prode­vel­op­ment tar­gets, which will chal­lenge Africa, where HIV/AIDS, malaria, tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and other trop­i­cal dis­eases have set back wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion and de­vel­op­ment. The Ebola epi­demic, which hit Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from early 2014, will cost those coun­tries a to­tal of $1.6 bil­lion in eco­nomic growth, reck­ons the World Bank. UNDP added that the West African re­gion as a whole may suf­fer Ebola-re­lated losses of $3.6 bil­lion per year be­tween 2014 and 2017, due to a de­crease in for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment, border clo­sures and flight can­cel­la­tions.

Since the be­gin­ning of 2015, there have been 214 mil­lion new malaria cases in Africa and 438,000 deaths. “Fif­teen coun­tries, mainly in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, ac­counted for 80% of malaria cases and 78% of deaths glob­ally in 2015,” says the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( WHO). Erad­i­cat­ing malaria and other trop­i­cal dis­eases would be huge for Africa.

SDGs vs. Agenda 2063

End­ing hunger and in­creas­ing in­vest­ments in ru­ral in­fra­struc­ture are also pri­or­i­ties for Africa, as are eco­nomic growth, ac­cess to en­ergy and wa­ter and in­vest­ments in agri­cul­ture. In 2013 African lead­ers adopted their own Agenda 2063 — a set of seven ‘as­pi­ra­tions’ that re­sem­ble the SDGs. Th­ese as­pi­ra­tions are not a plan­ning doc­u­ment, ex­plains Mr. Lopes. Rather, they en­vi­sion “the Africa you would like to have 100 years after the found­ing of the OAU [Or­ga­ni­za­tion of African Unity],” the con­ti­nen­tal body that mor­phed into the AU in 2002. Last March, African lead­ers ap­proved the as­pi­ra­tions’ first 10-year im­ple­men­ta­tion plan.

The link be­tween the SDGs and Agenda 2063 is clear from the first as­pi­ra­tion: “We want a pros­per­ous Africa based on in­clu­sive growth and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment,” specif­i­cally an an­nual growth rate of at least 7% (the same as the SDG tar­get), healthy and nour­ished cit­i­zens, and a three-fold in­crease in food and agri­cul­ture. Un­der as­pi­ra­tion 6, Africa hopes to achieve de­vel­op­ment, “re­ly­ing par­tic­u­larly on the po­ten­tial of women and youth.”

The align­ment be­tween Agenda 2063 and the SDGs is clear, ex­perts say. But could Agenda 2063 in­ter­fere with the SDGs’ im­ple­men­ta­tion? Not at all, says Mr. Lopes, who en­vis­ages a con­ver­gence of both agen­das. “Africa will have their own agenda and then di­a­logue with the univer­sal agenda,” he says, adding that African coun­tries cre­at­ing de­vel­op­ment plans on the ba­sis of Agenda 2063 may de­cide to in­fuse SDG-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties in those plans.

Con­sid­er­ing that many African coun­tries will de­pend on donor funds to im­ple­ment the SDGs, there may be lit­tle wig­gle room re­gard­ing which re­sources are al­lo­cated to what sec­tors. Mr. Lopes hopes Africa will not rely too heav­ily on donor funds. “Coun­tries must gen­er­ate in­ter­nal rev­enue. No coun­tries have de­vel­oped with­out in­ter­nal rev­enue,” he ob­serves, with the caveat that donor money be used only to stim­u­late do­mes­tic re­source mo­bi­liza­tion.

Ms. Mo­hammed, the UN spe­cial ad­viser, hopes that the SDGs, just like the MDGs, will gal­va­nize the con­ti­nent into tak­ing ac­tion to achieve set goals. Spe­cific indi­ca­tors for the SDGs will be re­leased in March 2016, she says, which will help to mea­sure the progress that each coun­try makes to achieve set tar­gets.

Given that most of the SDGs and their tar­gets align with Africa’s pri­or­i­ties, the con­ti­nent may well be on the brink of a trans­for­ma­tion.

UN/Cia Pak

World lead­ers lis­ten to an ad­dress by Pope Fran­cis on 25 Septem­ber be­fore adopt­ing the SDGs at the United Na­tions head­quar­ters, New York. In a his­toric event, more than 150 world lead­ers gath­ered at the UN in New York on 25 Septem­ber to adopt a new and am­bi­tious de­vel­op­ment blue­print known as the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment. This mo­men­tous agenda will serve as the launch pad for global ac­tion to pro­mote shared pros­per­ity and well-be­ing for all over the next 15 years.

UN Photo/Cia Pak

The iconic UN head­quar­ters build­ing bathed in SDGs colours.

UN Photo/Mark Garten

The UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon speaks at the Global Ci­ti­zen Fes­ti­val in New York’s Cen­tral Park, a day after the SDGs were adopted.

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